U.S. Rep. Rodney Frelinghusen is retiring after 24 years of serving NJ's 11th District.
By Meghan Beyers Morristown — After 24 years of service and 12 terms as the representative for New Jersey's 11th congressional district, Rodney Frelinghuysen, 71, retired at the beginning of the new year. Frelinghuysen (RNJ-11), a Vietnam War veteran, was first elected to Congress in 1994. He followed in the footsteps of his late father Peter Frelinghuysen II, who served in Congress for two decades. “My father reminded me often that we are temporary stewards of the public trust,” wrote Frelinghuysen in a statement on Dec. 27. “I have sincerely endeavored to earn that trust every day and I thank my constituents and my home state of New Jersey for the honor to serve.” As chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Frelinghuysen was one of the most powerful New Jersey voices in the House of Representatives. Amid concerns over last year’s tax reform plan, he took care to remind his constituents that “the power of the purse still lies with Congress.” However, Frelinghuysen faced significant controversy during his last year in office. Members of the political activist group NJ 11th for Change criticized the congressman for a lack of open communication with his constituents, and worried that his previously moderate voting record had shifted too far to the right. Following the 2016 election, concerned constituents met weekly outside Frelinghuysen’s office to request an in-person town hall, to which the congressman responded by holding conference-style “teletown halls.” Frelinghuysen later came under increased scrutiny for writing a note to an activist’s employer, identifying Saily Avelenda as a “ringleader” of NJ 11th for Change and inciting pressure that eventually caused her to leave her job. One of 33 House Republicans who declined to seek re-election in 2018, Frelinghuysen will retire during a tumultuous time in American politics, leaving behind a government locked into a partial shutdown with no end currently in sight. “It is deeply disappointing that Congress was unable to reach a compromise that would have prevented this destabilizing, unnecessary, partial government shutdown right before the holidays,” Frelinghuysen said in a statement on Dec. 22. “I urge House and Senate leadership—Democrat and Republican—and the White House to come together and find a deal that will reopen the government, provide much-needed border security funding, and help Americans recover from recent natural disasters—as quickly as possible.” Frelinghuysen’s successor, Democratic Congressperson-elect Mikie Sherrill, echoed his disappointment. “No elected official should ever be “proud to shut down the government” at the expense of hardworking public servants, their families, and children,” she wrote in her own statement. Sherrill, a former Navy helicopter pilot, won 57%-42% against Republican opponent Jay Webber, who was endorsed by President Trump. The meeting of the new Congress on Jan. 3 will mark the first time in over three decades that NJ’s 11th District will be represented by a democrat. The 11th District includes parts of Essex, Morris, Passaic and Sussex counties. In Sussex County, the municipalities of Byram, Hopatcong, Ogdensburg, Sparta and Stanhope are in the 11th District. In a statement following Frelinghuysen’s retirement announcement last January, Sherrill expressed her respect for the congressman. "While Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen and I did not agree on many issues, as a fellow veteran I deeply respect his service to our country and to this community,” she wrote. “From serving in Vietnam, to the New Jersey legislature, to the U.S. House of Representatives, Congressman Frelinghuysen dedicated himself to protecting this country.” Frelinghuysen made veterans’ issues a priority during his time in Congress, advocating for improved health care services. “To those of you I have met while you served us overseas and to those of you that I have sat by your bedside, I hope and trust I have served you well,” he said in his initial retirement announcement. In his farewell statement last week, Frelinghuysen further expressed his thanks to constituents, writing, “It has been the honor of my life to serve and represent the people of New Jersey’s 11th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives for 24 years.”